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'Personal-Injury Justice'

January 24, 1986

I am tempted to suggest that the tort "reforms" Richard Wiebe of the Alliance of American Insurers suggests should be spread throughout every industry--embracing controls on doctor fees, insurance rates, as well as attorney's fees. In fact, why not go even further, and control all fees in the name of reform?

My office recently concluded a case where we proved to the satisfaction of a jury, trial judge and appellate court, that a doctor had allowed gangrene to spread throughout a woman's leg in such a negligent manner that her leg ended up looking like chopped hamburger, also affecting her ability to walk.

We received a $750,000 award for that, which was cut to $250,000 under the "reform." For five years, the doctor refused to allow the insurance company to settle the case, even though we were willing to settle it for considerably less money. The attorneys' fee approximated $15 per hour, considering all of the legal time that was expended on behalf of two lawyers. We also advanced $40,000 in costs. Those were unnecessary expenses for the most part, caused by the failure of the insurance company and the doctor to agree to a settlement.

When the "reform" legislation was applied to our fee, it turned out that the lawyers were working for less than we pay our secretaries. That "reform" will probably end all malpractice cases sooner or later, since most lawyers are as interested in being paid as is the average doctor or insurance agent.

Since our office has produced so many million-dollar verdicts, we can perhaps "afford" the charitable representation of such negligently maimed people, but, I wonder about other lawyers.

It was a good trick played by the doctors in getting that "reform" legislation through. Now they go on planning their tax shelters, getting taxpayer-supported medical insurance, while the victims' lawyers are reduced to fees that will not cover secretarial time.

If somebody wants to call that "reform," they are free to use the word, but "elimination" of rights is perhaps the better phrase.



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